Say hello to my vegan take on one of the most popular Indian dishes of all time. Ladies and gentlemen, I present you a healthy vegan version of everyone's favourite palak paneer - Indian spinach and cheese curry. Palak paneer is a popular North Indian side dish, but as you know, vegans love to turn side dishes into the main course. In this easy vegan recipe, we're going to replace paneer (Indian cottage cheese) with Quorn or tofu pieces - whatever you prefer - as both make excellent vegan paneer substitutes.
This vegan palak paneer is prepared by first blanching and then frying spinach. The spinach is sautéed with tomatoes, garlic and onions in a lot of aromatic Indian spices. Pan-fried cubes of vegan "paneer" (Quorn pieces or extra firm tofu) are then added to the spiced spinach, and the final result is this healthy yet delicious and indulgent curry. For the ultimate Indian "fakeaway" experience, pair your palak paneer with cumin basmati rice, vegan naan, wholemeal roti and a bit of simple salad.
💚 WHY YOU WILL LOVE THIS RECIPE
- Quick and easy - dinner will be ready in no time! This vegan spinach paneer curry comes together in just over 40 minutes - it's a perfect recipe if you've been looking for no-fuss mid-week dinner ideas.
- This recipe is vegan and can also be made gluten-free if you use tofu (Quorn pieces contain gluten).
- Get your greens - I can't think of a more delicious way to step up your spinach game. Consuming ridiculous amounts of nutrient-packed spinach has never been easier and more delectable.
- Healthy and nutritious - don't be fooled by how delicious this recipe is. This spinach cheese curry is good for you. Protein-packed Quorn pieces (or tofu) and nutritionally dense spinach make this vegan curry a very nourishing, wholesome meal.
- Amazingly fragrant and full of flavour thanks to the magic of aromatic Indian spices.
- Healthy "fakeaway" experience - this curry is so indulgent and satisfying, so you'll agree with me that this meal is restaurant-level. The only difference is that this curry is actually good for you - it's not too oily, and it's made with only natural ingredients. This is why I will always choose a homemade "fakeaway" over an overpriced greasy restaurant meal. Yes, I am crazy like that. Anyone else?
- Something for Indian food lovers - if you're a big fan of Indian cuisine, do I even have to say anything?
- Budget-friendly - this vegan palak paneer is easy on the wallet as it's made with only cheap and accessible ingredients.
👩⚕️ HEALTH BENEFITS OF SPINACH
Popeye was right! We all should try to incorporate more of this leafy veggie into our diets. Its impressive health-boosting potential can't be ignored. Spinach is one of the cheapest and most accessible superfoods available, and thanks to delicious curry recipes like this one, it has never been easier to get your greens! Here are a few great reasons why you need more of this green goodness in your life:
- Spinach packs a nutritional punch - it's is full of an incredible amount of nutrients: carotenoids, vitamin C, vitamin K, folic acid, iron, and calcium.
- It's loaded with nitrates - compounds that have been shown to help moderate blood pressure levels and decrease your risk of heart disease.
- It can help with anaemia thanks to its high iron and folate content.
- It ups your energy levels - it provides you with the required levels of magnesium and folate in your body, which help you generate energy.
- Vegans' favourite leafy green also benefits your skin, hair and bones - as it boasts impressive calcium content.
- Spinach is also a substantial source of antioxidants that are obtained from carotenoids and polyphenols.
🤓 PALAK PANEER VS SAAG PANEER?
What's the difference? Is palak paneer the same dish as saag paneer? Confused? I was too! In many Indian restaurants, the terms palak paneer and saag paneer are sometimes used interchangeably, which is why we never learnt to differentiate these two. But once you take your Indian food romance to the next level, it would be cool to educate yourself about different leafy greens in the Indian subcontinent.
Palak is a Hindi word for spinach which means palak paneer is made only with spinach and paneer.
Saag refers to common leafy green vegetables found in the Indian subcontinent, such as mustard greens, collard greens, spinach, fenugreek and dill. This means saag paneer is made with various green leafy vegetables, and spinach is often one of the ingredients.
Compared to saag paneer (made with a unique combination of slightly bitter, peppery saag greens), palak paneer is milder in taste.
- Vegan "paneer" - as this recipe was originally created for Quorn, I've used Quorn Vegan Pieces here. Their soft, chewy texture and slightly tangy taste make them an excellent vegan paneer substitute. If you can't get hold of Quorn products where you are, just go for a block of extra firm tofu instead. Firm tofu is consistency-wise very similar to paneer cheese, so it will also work great in this recipe. Did you know that tofu making process is very similar to paneer production? Both involve coagulating soy milk or dairy milk to form curds and then pressing and ageing the curds to form a block.
- Aromatics - lots of fresh ginger, garlic, green chillies, and onions are a must to make a flavourful Indian-inspired curry.
- Tomatoes - they will thicken up your masala base a little bit and will also add a desirable tangy sweetness to the dish.
- Indian spices - they will infuse the spinach and vegan paneer beautifully. You just can't go wrong with the classic combination of bittersweet coriander, earthy cumin, woody turmeric, pungent chilli, sweet cassia, smoked paprika powder and warming cloves.
- Spinach - Loads of it. You know this spinach game, don't you? When you feel like you're using bags of it, and then after you cook it, it wilts into absolutely nothing? So when I say loads, I absolutely mean it - two 500g bags of fresh spinach or one 900g-100g bag of frozen spinach should be satisfactory. I've tested this recipe with both fresh and frozen spinach, and I was fully satisfied with both versions. However, I definitely don't recommend using canned spinach, or, should I say cans of cheap, processed, tasteless greenish goop. They're not suitable for this recipe method anyway. We are making a less traditional version of dry, stir-fried palak paneer, so we need fresh or frozen spinach that retains a lot of flavour and texture. And why aren't we blending curried spinach into a thick and creamy gravy? It's my personal preference to prepare palak paneer this way. It all started from one great restaurant I've been to in Udaipur in India. I ordered aloo palak (spinach potato curry) and fell in love with their stir-fried version of it. If you're a spinach lover, you'll appreciate this green leafy veg prepared in this way.
🔪 HOW TO MAKE VEGAN PALAK PANEER
1) Prep the spinach
If you're using fresh spinach, you have to blanch it. Blanching is an easy way to quickly cook green vegetables in order to preserve their vibrant green colour, flavours and nutrients. It also removes the bitter taste of mature spinach. To blanch your spinach:
- Boil a large pot of water at high heat.
- Boil the spinach for about a minute until it turns bright green and wilts.
- Scoop up your spinach with a slotted spoon and transfer to a colander.
- Pour cold water over the spinach.
- After a few minutes, make sure you squeeze out the excess water from the spinach using your hands - gently squeeze the leaves. It is essential to get rid of as much water as possible. Set the spinach aside.
If I'm cooking palak paneer with frozen spinach, the process is pretty much the same. Even though frozen spinach is already blanched, I always parboil spinach before cooking my curry anyway. Boiling frozen spinach will take you a few minutes longer (4-5 minutes), and after that, the process is the same - drain your spinach, pour ice cold over it and then try to get rid of as much water as possible. Set aside.
2) Make the masala base
- Finely dice onions and tomatoes. Crush ginger and garlic.
- Sauté onions, ginger and garlic in a few tablespoons of olive oil (use as much olive oil as you like) for 5 minutes.
- Add all spices, salt and diced tomatoes. Cook on medium heat while stirring continuously for a few minutes until tomatoes melt into a paste. Add a tiny bit of water if necessary.
3) Add the blanched spinach
- Once again, try to squeeze as much water from the spinach as possible. Roughly chop the blanched spinach on the chopping board.
- Add a diced green chilli and the chopped spinach to the fried onions and tomatoes and cook on a low flame for 10 minutes. Keep the lid on. Stir everything occasionally and keep checking as it's easy to burn the spinach! Add a bit of water if necessary.
4) Prep the vegan "paneer"
- Shallow fry Quorn Vegan Pieces (or tofu cut in cubes) in a few tablespoons of olive oil until they turn golden brown. Once again, use as much olive oil as you like - you decide if you want this curry to be healthy-ish or more on the indulgent side. If I cook for myself, I usually use as little oil as possible as I like my food to be healthy. If I cook for my sceptic friends (those who could never go vegan), I go for more oil to make my curry crazy indulgent and restaurant-level. I hope this makes sense?
5) Add your pan-fried vegan "paneer" to the curried spinach.
- Cook on a low flame with the lid on for about ten more minutes, until Quorn Vegan Pieces (or tofu cubes) are thoroughly cooked and soak up all the spices. If everything's getting too dry and spinach gets stuck to the bottom of the pot, add a tiny bit of water.
- Your vegan spinach paneer is ready! I'm so excited!
👩🏻🍳 TIPS FOR SUCCESS
- Don't cook with baby spinach if possible. Baby spinach is great in fresh salads, but it can get slimy and mushy when cooked. Regular mature spinach will work better. It has a more robust flavour, and it will keep a better texture in this dish.
- Pan-fry your vegan "paneer" before adding it to the curried spinach - this will make your "paneer" taste extra rich and delicious. This is not one of those recipes where you should be shy with oil, to be completely honest with you. You wouldn't want your spinach curry to taste too "healthy".
- Squeeze as much water out of your blanched spinach as possible. Otherwise, you'll end up with mediocre watery spinach soup, which is not what we are after.
🍛 SERVING SUGGESTIONS
Serve garnished with chopped fresh coriander and red chilli flakes. Pair your vegan spinach paneer with fragrant cumin basmati rice and wholemeal roti (or fluffy vegan naan bread) for the ultimate Indian restaurant-level experience. That's what I call a proper vegan "fakeaway".
🥡 STORAGE INSTRUCTIONS
Leftovers will keep well in the fridge, in an air-tight container for two or three days.
Technically, this spinach paneer is suitable for freezing. However, I do not recommend freezing spinach dishes. Once defrosted, they can get a tad too mushy and watery. This spinach cheese curry, undoubtedly, will taste best served straight from the stove.
🧄 MORE VEGAN CURRY RECIPES
Eddoe lentil curry - Sticky, slightly sweet eddoes (taro root - also called arbi) goes so well with red lentils in this recipe. I was introduced to this combination by someone from Pakistani Punjab.
Chickpea tikka masala - You can create ultimate vegan comfort food with just a handful of simple pantry ingredients - a can of chickpeas can truly save lives sometimes. This vegan chickpea tikka masala is better than a takeaway, if I may - it is a healthier, wholesome, homemade "fakeaway"!
Creamy vegan korma - In this Indian recipe, healthy mixed vegetables are cooked in rich and creamy coconut cashew korma sauce, which is spiced to perfection.
Vegan keema - mince curry - This keema curry recipe is a vegan version of a popular Indian and Pakistani dish called keema aloo matar (mince potato and green pea curry). Traditionally, it's made with ground beef or lamb but thank god that nowadays there are so many great-tasting and cruelty-free meat alternatives available!
🌱 AMAZING RECIPES WITH SPINACH
Vegan aloo palak - spinach potato curry - meet spinach paneer's sister. Bags of spinach are fried with fragrant Indian spices and paired up with potatoes this time. Not going to lie, potato spinach curry is one of my favourite combinations.
Roasted cauliflower salad - In this vegan and gluten-free recipe, turmeric cauliflower is roasted to perfection until it caramelises and then it's tossed together with some raisins, baby spinach leaves, almond flakes, fresh dill and red onion slices.
Green smoothie bowl - Made from just a few ingredients: mangoes, bananas, avocados, fresh dates, matcha powder, and just the right amount of spinach, this is officially the best-tasting green smoothie I've ever had.Print
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